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Lorraine H. Morton

File:Evanston Civic Center (Marywood Academy).jpg
The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center at 2100 Ridge Ave in Evanston, IL

Lorraine H. Morton was mayor of Evanston, Illinois, from 1993 to 2009.[1][2] Morton was Evanston's first African-American mayor, first Democratic mayor, and longest-serving mayor. She is also notable for spearheading the desegregation of Evanston's public schools as a teacher and school principal.[2][3][4]

Early Life and Family

She was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina the youngest child of Keziah Hairston, a schoolteacher, and William Patrick Hairston, a prosperous businessman who helped found the Winston Mutual Life Insurance Company (now the Golden Gate Insurance Company).[5] She received a B.S. in Education in 1938 from Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina and an M.A. in Curriculum (Education) from Northwestern University in 1942. She permanently moved to Evanston in 1953 with her husband, Dr. James T. Morton Jr. (1911-1974) who was a clinical psychologist and worked at Evanston Hospital.[6] Dr. Morton was also a Northwestern graduate of the class of 1942, a former professor at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, and has the distinction of being the first African-American chief psychologist for the Veteran’s Administration.[6] Both Dr. and Mrs. Morton taught at the Tuskegee Institute before moving to Evanston.[7] Mayor Morton has one daughter and two grandchildren.[1]

Teaching career

Prior to her experience in municipal government, Morton was an educator in the District 65 school system from 1953 to 1989. She began teaching in Evanston in 1953 at the now-closed Foster Elementary School,[3] which was at that time the only elementary school for African-Americans in Evanston.[8] Morton then went on to teach at Nichols Middle School from 1957-1966 and Chute Middle School from 1966-1977,[9] becoming the first African-American educator to cross the color line and teach in an Evanston school outside of the Old Foster School.[3] In 1977, after twenty-five years of teaching in the District 65 school system, Morton was appointed principal of Evanston's Haven Middle School and maintained that position until she retired from teaching in 1989.[1] She also holds life membership in the Illinois Congress of Parents and Teachers.

Municipal career

Alderman of the Fifth Ward

Morton continued her long career of community service and public engagement when she agreed to serve as alderman of the Fifth Ward of Evanston,[10] an Evanston City Council position she held from 1982-1991. As a member of the Evanston City Council, she served in committees on Housing and Community Development, Police Services, Planning and Development, Human Services, and Rules, as well as on the Unified Budget Panel. Further, she also worked on special committees on fair housing, libraries, and gangs.

Mayor of Evanston

In 1993, Lorraine Morton ran for mayor of Evanston under the campaign slogan “Morton for Mayor,” which accompanied images of trains and lists of people who were “on board” with her campaign. After a run-off election against Ann Rainey, alderman of Evanston’s Eighth Ward, Morton was elected Evanston’s first African-American and first Democratic mayor.[11][12] She would eventually become Evanston’s longest-serving mayor as well by holding that office for sixteen years (1993-2009). Morton was re-elected in 1997, 2001 and 2005. She has been the Vice President of the Evanston Historical Society and has received community service awards from Saint Francis Hospital of Evanston and the Evanston Arts Council.[13]

During her long mayoral tenure, Morton attempted to improve the town-gown relationship between Northwestern University and the greater population of Evanston. She was able to form a close friendship with Northwestern University president Henry Bienen and ameliorate the tension between Evanston and the University given her status as both the Mayor of Evanston and a proud alumna of Northwestern.[14]

Awards and Honors

Both of her alma maters have recognized Mayor Morton as an exceptional role model and alumna. Winston-Salem State University created the Lorraine Hairston Morton Endowed Scholarship in 2010 for students majoring in education who are committed to community service.[15] Northwestern University, too, offers a scholarship in Mayor Morton’s name—the Lorraine H. Morton Scholarship for the Master of Science in Education Program in the School of Education and Social Policy.[16] Further, Northwestern presented her with an Alumni Merit Award in 1996 and bestowed an honorary doctorate upon her in 2008.[17] She also holds an honorary doctorate for public service from Kendall College in Chicago.[15]

Evanston's civic center was renamed for Lorraine Morton at the time of her retirement in 2009 and is now known as the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

See also

Elizabeth Tisdahl, the current mayor of Evanston
Martin Luther King Junior Laboratory School